Pickup truck smackdown: Round 1 – 2009 Dodge Ram

What do you do with a pickup truck in Manhattan? Get out of town in a hurry.  The city is distinctly unfriendly to large mechanical objects like fullsize pickups  Parking  garages wave them away because they take up too much space, and passers-by sometimes use the open beds as handy waste disposals.

With that in mind, I pulled the console shifter into drive on my Ram 1500 Zaramie Crew 4X4 and headed up the Henry Hudson Parkway.  It wasn’t long before I noticed:  This is a pickup truck that feels like a luxury car. The controls and the fittings in the passenger cabin are all top drawer and the new rear suspension with coil springs provides an appropriately comfy ride. Then, for the as-tested price of $47,565, it probably SHOULD feel like a luxury car.

The Ram’s refinement extends to the powertrain. As you would expect, the massive 5.7 liter Hemi V-8  provided smooth, effortless power (while sucking up a gallon of gas every 17 miles traveled in city and on highway). The Ram is a trucker’s truck, with its massive forward leaning grill, power-bulge hood, meaty front bumpers, and prominent wheel arches.

But you don’t buy a fullsize pickup for highway cruising – at least not in this neck of the woods. The Ram performed just as smoothly on the dirt roads of northwest Connecticut and proved handy  at hauling.  The pickup bed is unusually flexible, with a movable partition that sections it off,  as well as lockable storage compartments in both side walls. Oddly, both storage wells have latches that allow the lids to be opened from the inside.  Somebody at Dodge or at a  federal safety agency must worry that they will be used to stow some very small passengers.

As gasoline prices continue to trend downward, the environment for big pickups is improving. That’s good news for Detroit, which counts on them for outsize profits. The downturn in the housing industry has dissuaded a lot of carpenters and handymen from buying new trucks. And higher gas prices have turned away the drivers who want trucks for personal use or just image.

Traditionally, Ford and Chevy lead the pickup market, with a big gap separating them from Dodge. The new Ram isn’t likely to upset that traditional ranking. But the folks at Chrysler are hoping that its look-at-my styling combined with Hemi power will steer some more buyers its way.

Next: Round Two – the 2009 Ford F-150

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